Information-Sensitive Gradients of Bliss

“Normal” or so-called “euthymic” people are inclined to judge that hyperthymics/”optimists” view the world through rose-tinted spectacles. Their central information-processing system is systematically biased. Conversely, hyperthymics see the rest of us as unreasonably pessimistic. Chronic depressives, on the other hand, may view euthymic and hyperthymic people alike as deluded. Indeed victims of melancholic depression may feel the world itself is hateful and meaningless. For evolutionary reasons (cf. rank theory), a genetic predisposition to hyperthymia and euphoric unipolar mania are rarer than dysthymia or unipolar depression. Most of us fall somewhere in between these temperamental extremes, though the distribution is skewed to the southern end of the axis. Genetics plays a key role in determining our hedonic set-point, as does the ceaseless interplay between our genes and environmental stressors. Inadequate diet, imprudent drug use, and severe, chronic, uncontrolled stress can all reset an emotional thermostat at a lower level than its previous norm – though that norm may be surprisingly robust. Unlike recreational euphoriants, delayed-onset antidepressants may restore a lowered set-point to its former norm, or even elevate it. Antidepressants may act to reverse stress-induced hypertrophy of the basolateral amygdala and contrasting stress-induced dendritic atrophy in the hippocampus. Yet no mood-brightener currently licensed for depression reliably induces permanent bliss, whether information-signalling or constant, serene or manic. A genetically-determined ceiling stops our quality of life as a whole getting better.

 

Is the future of mood and motivation in the universe destined to be an endless replay of life’s evolutionary past? Are the same affective filters that were genetically adaptive for our hominid ancestors likely to be retained by our transhuman successors? Will superintelligent life-forms really opt to preserve the architecture of the primordial hedonic treadmill indefinitely? In each case, probably not, though it’s controversial whether designer drugs, neuroelectrodes or gene therapies will make the biggest impact on recalibrating the pleasure-pain axis. In the long-run, perhaps germline genetic engineering will deliver the greatest global enhancement of emotional well-being. For a reproductive revolution of designer babies is imminent. Thanks to genomic medicine, tomorrow’s parents will be able to choose the genetic make-up and personality of their offspring. Critically, parents-to-be will be able to select the emotional dial-settings of their progeny rather than play genetic roulette. In deciding what kind of children to create, tomorrow’s parents will (presumably) rarely opt for dysfunctional, depressive and malaise-ridden kids. Quite aside from the ethical implications of using old corrupt code, children who are temperamentally happy, loving and affectionate are far more enjoyable to bring up.

 

The collective outcome of these individual parental genetic choices will be far-reaching. In the new era of advanced biotechnology and reproductive medicine, a combination of designer drugs, autosomal gene therapies and germline interventions may give rise to a civilisation inhabiting a state-space located further “north” emotionally than present-day humans can imagine or coherently describe. Gradients of heritable, lifelong bliss may eventually become ubiquitous. The worst post-human lows may be far richer than the most sublime of today’s peak experiences. Less intuitively, our superwell descendants may be constitutionally smarter as well as happier than unenriched humans. Aided by synthetic enhancement technologies, fine-textured gradients of intense emotional well-being can play an information-signalling role at least as versatile and sophisticated as gradients of emotional ill-being or pain-sensations today. Simplistically, it may be said that posterity will be “permanently happy”. However, this expression can be a bit misleading. Post-humans are unlikely to be either “blissed out” wireheads or soma-addled junkies. Instead, we may navigate by the gradients of a multi-dimensional compass that’s designed – unlike its bug-ridden Darwinian predecessor – by intelligent agents for their own ends.

 

– Life in the Far North: An Information-Theoretic Perspective on Heaven by David Pearce

 

9 comments

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  3. Veritas Purus · January 23

    I agree in one sense, within such is all lovely intellectualism with sound insight and well thought out and constructed formalism of philosophical arguments and paradigms; however, it lacks pragmatic bases within the context of where we are here and now and what would be most likely to happen along the way given the issue as stated – the massive dominance of the ‘sociopathic machine’ – and if you are the one getting kicked in the head by it on a daily basis (as I assume you are not), you will not be quick to deny its presence, reality, and power.

    Technology that can afford revolutionary benefit in mood/’consciousness’/awareness and physical well-being, as well as biosphere dynamics, et al., will also allow tech firstly accessible to those in power who may very well look to utilize such for their want to establish greater ‘sociopathic domination’, within an amplification of such that exists today and constricts and constrains the well-being of so many people and the planet itself. Therefore, alleviation of suffering to both humans, animals, and the planet itself, as well as any more Humanity+/”Utilitopian” world paradigm, must all be a top down approach first and foremost (altering favorably who is in control, at the top), not a bottom up approach alone (altering favorably “privileged’ individuals).

    If we look at genetic bio-engineering for example, we arrive at during the process to a super-mood/intelligence/health(longevity) state (theoretically capable to alleviate most all suffering) an inherent accessibility to such potent bio-engineering firstly enabling those in power to simply become more powerful, more dominating and oppressive, and potentially create greater suffering.

    This I will call the “Welcome to the Real World hard problem” within it requires as I see it implicit need for accountability, which may seems as mind-numbingingly “unsolvable” as the what many refer to the hard problem of consciousness itself. ; )

    To take a step back, I am very in accord with much of the ideals and philosophical interpretations herein, however, I might have a bit more of a ‘realist’ bent in this manner as I have been in the trenches.

    People removed from such ‘brutal reality’, who have never engaged such, who have been socially comfortable without entering the battlefield or been subject as victim directly to the ‘wrath’ (true profound suffering and victimization, in whatever form such may have within any outgrowth), tend to project this ‘comfort’ into their idyllism and idealism. Such as Watts, who I do admire and think was at times brilliant. His lectures do not account for a huge segment of reality – simple as that. Life is “all play”…well ain;t that swell…but yet that is his mantra.

    Further, since you quoted Watts a few times, we can also note what I term his “Leave it alone” mantra, where there seems no need to ‘fight the good fight’, etc., etc., of that nature. Is anyone who has not truly suffered or has not truly been embedded in any situation of true suffering equipped to truly comment on what should or should not be done as regards suffering? Suffering is a “primary”, it is not subjective. Alleviation of such is THE critical emergency, absolutely. It’s axiomatic. If we discount that we have no meaning, no gradient, as this is the ‘primary’.

    We all have some degree of projection bias, situational bias, cognitive bias, and confirmation bias; however, there are those who have traveled beyond ego and shed such so as to be truly open (as much as one can be), therein potently clear-sighted. Most all of us though always need to take a step or two back…take it all into account…truly asses the big picture, as it truly is, not how we may bias-think it is, or may wish it were.

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    • algekalipso · January 24

      I agree completely that people who are comfortable in general tend to underestimate the ethical urgency of reducing (abolishing even) suffering. I agree that Watts is wrong in thinking life is just play fundamentally. I have no illusions that suffering and happiness cancel each other out and tend to be a negative-leaning utilitarian myself. My source of philosophical grounding and “reality checking” is David Pearce, not Watts or other popular philosophers. David Pearce himself is rather extremely pessimistic about reality as a whole (see: “Suffering in the Multiverse” – http://www.abolitionist.com/multiverse.html).

      Pure Replicators is the default future of humanity, unless we place adequate selection pressures to favor the reproduction of people/intelligences that also care about other sentient beings. This does not happen on its own.

      That said, I think that developing technologies that produce MDMA-like states of consciousness sustainable (or, say, even once a week!) without health problems would probably be earth-shattering. It might be the sort of thing that would turn people “at the top” into highly prosocial beings, and kick-start a social movement of super-cooperators. But who knows. It’s the best I’ve got…

      See also:
      https://qualiacomputing.com/2015/12/23/who-should-know-about-suffering/
      https://qualiacomputing.com/2016/04/23/in-praise-of-systematic-empathy/

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      • Veritas Purus · January 24

        Yes, indeed I understand fundamentally the congruence of thought with Pearce (and not Watts, just that the quotes elicited said means to make certain points); which at most levels I agree with as well. Where I largely differ is within I have a strong grounding disposition toward seeking what I see to be truly pragmatic paradigms; while I look at things within creating distinct philosophical and theoretical paradigms, those are built upon a foundation of a core philosophical basis of actual pragmatic and meaningful based outcomes – an integration toward actual realization, within the here and now (or shall we say near term).

        While I would love to realize a truly more idealized world, one very in accord to what Dave has envisioned, I think in a here and now basis – critical emergency – sound the alarms and a call for like minds or true merit to meet upon that. That’s my ‘cry’ here ; )

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  4. Veritas Purus · January 22

    This is for naught or even counterproductive if there is still corruption as the dominant force – visit a vis those who will impose their will to dominate and subjugate through megalomaniacal, sociopathic means, that which can be even further of extremes given this too can be genetically imprinted or made into an ultimate genetic cocktail for domination potential. Then where are we? Especially given that can fortitude and strength of character itself be truly developed within those who live in a continuous high end bliss gradient?

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    • algekalipso · January 23

      Indeed bliss does not imply pro-sociality. That’s why we emphasize also figuring out what states of consciousness make you identify with consciousness in general, love other sentient beings, and feel motivated to help them all. See:

      https://qualiacomputing.com/2017/12/20/the-universal-plot-part-i-consciousness-vs-pure-replicators/
      https://qualiacomputing.com/2016/03/29/peaceful-qualia-the-manhattan-project-of-consciousness/

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      • Veritas Purus · January 24

        The only way in theory what you note is at all feasible, as I see it right off, is if there is the creation of a viral-vector based agent (or similar) that creates the necessary genetic modifications, such that can be delivered globally throughout the world via airborne and/or waterborne means, such that would be spread quickly and effectively to infect everyone, in such a way those who are a primary target, those of sociopathic nature in power, are not able to prevent being infected. One thing power craves is staying in power, more than they want happiness, as they most all seem to have no clue how to actually think otherwise. To them, as warped as it is, power = happiness – superiority, control, and domination over actual true well-being/happiness for self, and others.

        The genetic modification(s) would have to take effect rapidly, or it may be able to be reversed (by those wishing to stay power-mad and in power), as perverse as that may seem. I gather if it could be made irreversible that would be ‘advantageous’, but it still needs to infect extremely quickly so as not to be detected and neutralized or otherwise ‘thwarted’. Maybe one can load in (lace in) an orally bioavailable small molecule based airborne and/or water-soluble agent as well…for good measure…or whatever else may stack the deck…

        Hmmm…I’ve worked in such tech…good luck I say, but hey, nothing is outright impossible – just ask any electron…they seem pretty open to any potential.

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